‘We need a plan’
JAS President Lenworth Fulton is calling for thecountry to increase production of tubers like cassavato cut the import bill for things like rice and wheat.

PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Agriculture Society (JAS) Lenworth Fulton is appealing for the Government to outline a comprehensive agricultural reform plan that shows steps which will be taken to boost agricultural output as part of plans to reduce food imports and increase exports. The call comes amid reports of countries hoarding food in the wake of shortages associated with logistics issues caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

A frustrated sounding Fulton told the Jamaica Observer, “I have never been so confused with all that I see happening.”

“As the president of the JAS and a farmer myself and a trained agriculturalist for 40 years, I am not seeing a plan for the agricultural sector...We need a plan to take in financing, land reform, import substitution and export agriculture,” Fulton told the Business Observer.

“If the minister has a plan, he needs to say it because not even the 2030 Vision acknowledges agriculture except for just little bits and pieces here and there.”

Fulton referencing a recent survey conducted by the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) showing an estimated 2.8 million people, or nearly 40 per cent of the population in the English-speaking Caribbean is food insecure, said most of those must be Jamaicans given the population size.

“That survey shows people are facing food shortages, not starvation, they are either skipping meals or eating less,” he opined before adding, “What we need to see now is a comprehensive plan on how we are going to move forward [to feed ourselves].”“Yam was being sold in Linstead over the weekend for $170 per pound, one dozen ripe bananas is $600...it means we can’t afford to eat properly,” Fulton continued as he highlighted the growing unaffordability of food. Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica show the price of tubers and vegetables rose 5.3 per cent in March, more than three times faster than the headline inflation rate for the month of 1.6 per cent.

However, the rising cost of food was not the only issue for Fulton.

“We need to prevent any further erosion of our food supply. We are already 40 per cent food insecure and so therefore I think we need now to look at our own roots and tubers. In that I am talking about cassava, plaintain, banana, sweet potato, yam and pumpkins to replace imported wheat and rice and the corn we use in animal feed.” He calls for a study to be done to see how various roots and tubers match up against imported grains in relation to cost and nutritional value.

Fulton said studies that have been done already to make animal feed from cassava and sweet potato to replace corn. He said cassava production could also be expanded to make cassava flour “so that when you buy a bread, you know that at least 20 per cent of the bread is from local raw materials. I am not seeing that plan.”

“I am not hearing about a comprehensive plan for legumes. We are dependent on sorghum but the black eye peas and the cow peas are as good a protein source as the sorghum [for animal feed]. So I would expect us to start selecting farmers in the agro-parks to [plant] a couple hundred acres of cow peas and set up solar dryers to dry them, then mill them with sweet potatoes and cassava to make animal feed and to use about 30 per cent in our own diet to make stews and soups.”

Sorghum is commonly used as animal feed in the United States, but it more often is consumed by people in other parts of the world. The grain can be an ingredient in snack foods and baking and brewing products, and it sometimes is used as a meat extender.

When it was pointed out to him that cost plays a factor in the decision-making of what can be produced locally, Fulton was adamant.

“We will have to do some cost of production study, but you can’t stop at that. It costs more with a sliding dollar to buy US dollar to import things. I think this is now where the Government should lead in doing the research right away. These are ideas that might work and you would prove them wrong if you do the research.”

Fulton said he welcomed the many meetings taking place with a focus on the agriculture sector, but questioned the effectiveness of them if the group representing farmers are ignored from these dialogues.

“There are a lot of splinter meetings which are not bringing the whole together. The JMEA (Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association) meeting recently did not have one farmer. There was a good webinar put on by Agro-Investment Corporation. The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) is planning to meet with the minister and manufacturers have met with him about agriculture but surprisingly none of those meetings involve the JAS,” he pointed out.

Quoting data that the country’s farmers produced over 770 metric tonnes of food excluding vegetables, Fulton doubled down.

President of the JamaicaAgricultural Society LenworthFulton is appealing for acomprehensive agricultural reformplan aiming to cut imports andimprove food security, amid awave of food hoarding by severalcountries.

“I don’t think a PSOJ and a JMEA can ignore those efforts and taking the minister to themselves as if they are brighter than or know more about production than the small farmers. It doesn’t make any sense. All they are going to do is confuse a minister who I think has a great potential to rebuild agriculture. We need to come together, all of us to give one message.”

The JAS president was also scathing against Lisa Hanna, the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, who used her contribution to the sectoral debate last week to lash out against country continuing to support Irish potato farmers who grow the tuber at costs that are multiple times higher than the world market price.

“The current farm gate price is US$1.14 per pound or $176.00 per pound,” Hanna said in her presentation while pointing out that the world market price of Irish potato is US$0.15 per pound or J$23.00.

Fulton responded: “It was last week that MP Lisa Hanna came out, to spin a new ball to say we must take the duties off imported table Irish potato. We are producing in this country, 15 million metric tonnes of table Irish potato in most years, which is the consumption amount of our people. Why would you want to put thousands of Irish potato farmers out of a job. It is not only to get it cheaper. What about the socio-economic impact on rural Jamaica. I would like to hear the Government come out to say what is its objective, because there was no opposition from neither the Opposition nor the Government against Lisa Hanna’s suggestion.”

Hanna had proposed that if Jamaica cannot produce crops “at least 40 percent above world market prices” those products should instead be imported for the benefit of consumers to stretch disposable income. However, Fulton questioned that strategy.

“What will happen to farmers who are growing crops if we can just import cheaper. What are you going to do with them, put them on the PATH programme.”

He told the Business Observer “There is need to look on how we can get good-yielding varieties of various crops that exist all over the globe and find a way to produce them efficiently.”

Minister of Agriculture andFisheries Pearnel Charles isfacing calls from JAS PresidentLenworth Fulton to outline acomprehensive plan for theagricultural sector.
Dashan Hendricks

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